Food and desire are intimately entangled whereby food becomes a core tool to manage desire in fashioning oneself as a morally virtuous person. This paper looks at the ways in which Buddhist texts conceptualize human interactions with food and formulate prescriptions on how to handle food as a means of developing an attitude of non-attachment that aids in achieving nirvana—the extinguishing of desire to get released from the cycle of death and rebirth. The particular texts—the Agañña Sutta, the Āhāra Patikūlasaññā, and the Vinaya Pitaka— discussed here exhibit an attitude of deep ambiguity towards food in its capacity to incite desire. On the one hand nutrition is required to maintain life, but on the other, food can potentially be the cause of a degenerate state of mankind and a source of moral degradation. Hence, the Buddhist development of a dispassionate attitude towards food seeks to enable both nourishment and the pursuit of the extinction of the flame of desire in nirvana. Even though the texts formulate practical prescriptions for monks on how to relate to food to aid them in their pursuit, they also serve as moral standards for lay Sinhalese Buddhists who seek to model their everyday behaviour accordingly.
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